India’s intelligence services are not simply a history, but rather a legacy, which they inherited from the British colonial empire. In the colonial years, the intelligence services were used primarily as a tool to suppress Indian nationalists. Human Intelligence was gathered mainly by the Central Intelligence Bureau, but also by, “Intelligence units of the armed forces, border scouts, Special Rangers and well groomed individual agents, besides fine groomed revenue collectors, village level officials and civil servants” (Dhar, 8). Technical intelligence existed only as mail and message intercepts. The IB claims lineage stretching back to Colonel Sleeman’s Thuggy Department created in 1887 to deal with the infamous Thuggy cult that plagued colonial India, making IB perhaps the world’s oldest intelligence service (Dhar, 83).

After independence, the Intelligence Bureau retained the British model with “minor cosmetic changes,” (Dhar, 14). The organization maintained the character of a police unit rather than an intelligence unit along the lines of the CIA, MI-6, or Mossad. Importantly, it should be stressed that India’s intelligence service continued as a bureau and not a ministry. Essentially it was, and is, a wing of the Prime Minister’s office and is answerable only to the Prime Minister and the Home Minister without any oversight from parliament.

In the 1960s, IB officers were recruited mainly from the police force and trained in Anand Parvat, where they learned intelligence trade craft, counter-intelligence, and what limited technical intelligence gadgets which were available to the IB at that time. IB officers were also trained in mountaineering in order to traverse the austere and mountainous areas of Northern India, but were not trained in sabotage or subversion at this time (Dhar, 87). Tradecraft taught included, “foot surveillance, secret writing, concealment, memory enhancement, agents recruitment and handling, secured communications, etc.” (Dhar, 90). This is where the young intelligence officer learned, “to deal with human assets, break them down to raw clay and reformat them as intelligence agents” (Dhar, 92).

In 1968, India’s insurgencies were waged mainly by the Nagas and the Naxals, many of who went to West Pakistan or East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) for training by the ISI (Dhar, 107). Other groups were reported to travel to Yunnan province in China for training. At this time the Intelligence Bureau was tasked with photographing these insurgent training camps, infiltrating agents into their ranks, and intercepting groups of trained and armed insurgents as they attempted to cross back into India. IB also used their secret funds to stand up the Village Volunteer Force, a militia designed to counter the insurgencies.

As a young IB officer, Dhar negotiated the surrender of several Naga battalions (Dhar, 115), provided intelligence to the Army to raid other Naga units (Dhar, 116), identified smuggling routes through Burma (Dhar, 127), and chased after criminals smuggling gems, gold, and rare woods (Dhar, 129). The IB also intercepted Naga radio transmissions, especially as armed groups attempted to infiltrate back into India. Documents could be stolen from insurgent field meetings if they were returned before they were noticed missing, but even into the mid-70s IB had no access to copy machines, so the Techint branch devised an improvised method to copy documents using light bulbs and thermal paper (Dhar, 185).

Although the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was created in the aftermath of China’s surprise invasion of India in 1962 to handle external intelligence, the IB continued to have a vast presence in cross-border intelligence operations. IB ran intelligence assets out of numerous border checkpoint posts on the borders of Pakistan and China. The Sonam Gyatso Mountaineering Institute in Gangtok was IB’s mountaineering school and enabled their operatives to travel high into the mountains to send, “patrolling parties along the frequented and unfrequented routes along the international borders that were normally taken by the Chinese graziers and clandestine operators” (Dhar, 202). During this patrols IB officers were able to map out infiltration routes and on occasion snap pictures of Chinese military formations across the border.

IB was also often used for political purposes, which were entirely internal to India and had nothing to do with national defense. One unseemly episode unfolded when Dhar was tasked to recover the censored unpublished chapter of M.O. Mathai’s autobiography. The chapter was called “She” and had been rumored to exist in political and intelligence circles for years. Some parties were believed to be holding on to it as a form of political leverage or blackmail against Indira Gandhi (Dhar, 268), the then Prime Minister.

Dhar was thus ordered to recover the master copy by breaking into a newspaper’s office and stealing it. The IB officer weighed his options but was eventually trumped by his superiors and he carried out the operation. At that time Indira’s daughter-in-law controlled the master copy. Her son, Sanjay, was also reputed to possess a copy. Dhar conducted the Indian version of the Watergate break-in and discovered that the unpublished chapter of the biography contained naked pictures of the Prime Minister; material that surely would have forced her resignation had it gone public.